Richard Mosse lacks the ‘macho swagger’ of a traditional war photographer, he tells Laura Davis
THERE were at least three occasions in the Republic of Congo when, had fate not intervened, photographer Richard Mosse would have lost his life.
There was the plane he missed by oversleeping that crashed and killed all its passengers and the hotel he left early that day was attacked that very night by 12 men armed with kalashnikovs.
He was in the middle of negotiating a trip into rebel territory when the group there massacred 45 unarmed villagers.
Unimaginably terrifying for Mosse, but everyday life for many of the Congolese, five million of whom have so far been killed in the conflict.
The Dublin-born photographer, whose first UK solo exhibition, Infra, launches at the Open Eye Gallery tomorrow, uses infra-red film to document the war zone.
A now defunct military surveillance technology, it was jointly developed by Kodak and the US Army for camouflage detection, but in Mosse’s hands lends a surreal hue of lavender and pink to images of violent rebels and perilous landscapes.
“I was looking for new forms to represent a very old and tired war which no-one really cares about anymore,” says Mosse.
“The idea was to photograph it in a way that would engage not just with the subject of the Congo but with photography itself – to really examine, deconstruct and question the genre of photojournalism.”
Determined to move away from the low-fi style of traditional war photography, inspired by Magnum Photos co-founder Robert Capa, he landed on the Kodak Aerochrome film.
“Photojournalists tend to avoid the dilemma of ethics and aesthetics – the problems that arise when you make aesthetic images from human suffering,” he says. “Very few people consider any alternatives to the Capa low-fi, grainy, black and white approach, whereas photography has huge aesthetic potential, you can make extraordinary beautiful images which are very powerful.”
The contrast between the candyfloss-coloured world created by the infra-red film and the pictures’ content is what make Mosse’s work so compelling. One image, Men of Good Fortune, appears to show a scene straight out of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory yet the landscape is one of the most violent places in the world.